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Female jumpers not ruling out Supreme Court appeal

Time running out for inclusion in 2010 Olympics



The women ski jumpers may not have given up yet.

With one avenue left to them after a B.C. Court of Appeal ruling last week, they have yet to decide whether to take their case to the highest court in the land.

The ski jumpers were dealt a second blow in the B.C. Court of Appeal when three presiding judges ruled that while the International Olympic Committee discriminated against them, VANOC wasn't required to include female ski jumping in the 2010 Olympics. The judges have yet to release the reasons for their ruling but are expected to do so this week.

Ross Clark, the senior lawyer representing the jumpers on a pro-bono basis, called the decision disappointing but said his clients have yet to decide whether they'll take their case to the Supreme Court of Canada.

"We're very disappointed, obviously," he said. "There's been no decision taken. The clients would have a right to apply to the Supreme Court of Canada for permission to appeal. I don't know if they'll do that or not, it's to be decided."

Asked about the likelihood of them taking that route, he said he's not quite sure and that there are issues to be considered outside the legalities of the case. Asked whether the court could plausibly hear the case before the Olympics, he didn't rule it out.

"I think that's not a foregone conclusion," he said. "There are occasions when the Supreme Court of Canada has waived the normal time limits and pushed it forward, pushed cases forward because there's urgency, just as the Court of Appeal did in this case.

"This case was heard inside of four months. It's very fast."

The ski jumpers' quest for inclusion at the 2010 Olympics began when 15 athletes filed a lawsuit in B.C. Supreme Court that alleged discrimination on VANOC's part in denying them a chance to compete at the Games.

VANOC, in turn, argued the jumpers were targeting the wrong defendant and said it was up to the International Olympic Committee to decide which sports could be included in the Games.

What followed from there was "half a good decision," according to a civil rights expert with the B.C. Civil Liberties Association. Supreme Court Justice Lauri Ann Fenlon agreed that the IOC was discriminating against the athletes but ruled in VANOC's favour, saying that only the IOC could include a ski jumping event in 2010.

Fenlon did agree that VANOC is performing a government activity in putting on the Games and that it's thus bound by Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees equality rights in Section 15. However, she said that VANOC wasn't discriminating against the jumpers under that section.

Asked whether the Court of Appeal's decision overturns this legal status, Clark couldn't say because the judges haven't yet released their reasons.

George MacIntosh, a lawyer representing VANOC, said he was pleased his clients succeeded before the Court of Appeal but he pointed out that VANOC itself is not pleased that female ski jumpers cannot compete at the Olympics.

Asked if the Supreme Court could hear the case before the Games, he said, "I think it's unlikely, but you never know."

In a statement issued Nov. 13, VANOC CEO John Furlong said the committee is supportive of the complainants.

"We remain supportive of these remarkable young women and of having women's ski jumping added to the roster of future Olympic Winter Games," he said in a news release.

The release pointed out that VANOC has taken various actions to support women's ski jumping including inviting Canadian women to all open/international training sessions at Whistler Olympic Park since the 2007-08 season and hosting the FIS Ladies Continental Cup in December of 2008.